Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Forbidden fruit

One of the most baffling moments in my life came when I was at the JFK International Airport in New York, in a busy terminal waiting for my luggage.

I had just flown back from Spain, where I spent a semester abroad, and was reverse culture-shocked by all the signs in English and all the blonde people.

I was chatting with a fellow student in the “international arrivals” baggage claim, when suddenly a BEAGLE wearing a VEST showed up out of nowhere, put his paw on my backpack sitting next to me and went, “YAP!”

“What the---” I looked at the dog, and then followed his leash up to a very stern police officer.

“Ma’am, do you have any fruit in your bag?” the officer asked.

I blinked. It was my first encounter with an American since I returned.

“Um…fruit?” I asked. My eyes looked up to my right brain quadrant. I was thinking.

“Yes, fruit. Like, an apple or an orange,” the police officer said. “Or a plant of some kind.”

“Ummm…” I said, trailing off. People were now staring.

I had left Spain 15 hours before and was tired and confused. Then I remembered that my Spanish host family had given me a bag lunch before I left, and parts of it were still in my bag. Including an apple. I gulped.

“Yes…I think I have an apple,” I said.

“Come with me,” he said, more sternly, giving the beagle a treat for calling me out.

My friend looked at me with wide eyes as I followed the officer and the hound to a “secure” area with more officers.

Baffling was the fact that the dog smelled the apple. It was un-pierced!!!! Wrapped inside a grocery bag…inside a backpack…in a BUSY AIRPORT TERMINAL!! I couldn’t believe it.

What a ridiculous super power.

The officer took my passport, customs form and airline ticket and handed it to someone else to review. Then he told me to put my backpack on a table and then please step over here, ma’am.

All the other officers treated the backpack like there was a bomb in it. Using gloves, another officer took it and carefully opened it, thoroughly checking every pocket, even the lining.

They then took out the plastic grocery bag and removed the offending apple. The beagle went ape shit barking.

More people started staring.

HOW CAN IT SMELL AN APPLE???? A WAXY, UNPIERCED APPLE??? HOW??? (I imagined closing my eyes in the produce department of a grocery store and trying to pick out what’s what just by smelling it. Not possible.)

“Did you know it is against the law to bring fruit or vegetables to the United States from foreign countries?” the officer asked, interrupting my thoughts.
“Ummm…” I said.

(Yes, I remembered reading a sign at customs but had totally forgotten that the leftover lunch was in my bag. )

“No…I did not know that,” I lied.

“Well it IS!” he snapped. “It very much IS! Do you know that THIS (he dramatically waved the apple) could wipe out our entire crop industry???”

“Ummm…” I said. “I’m sorry. I forgot it was in there.”

The officer made a dramatic display of throwing the apple in the trash can and consulted with the other officers about what to do with me.

The first officer walked away with the beagle, on more fruit duty.

After a few minutes, I was dismissed, with a warning that if I had "forgotten" any other fruit, plants or vegetables in my luggage, I needed to turn them over to the authorities immediately. I agreed.

“So sorry,” I said as I returned to the conveyor belt.

I explained the whole thing to my friend (“…AND I don’t even LIKE red apples! That's why I didn't eat it!!...”) who laughed and said she thought my luggage had come around already, but wasn’t sure.

As I was waiting, I stared at the beagle walking around the terminal sniffing everyone's bags. He had already forgotten about me and my apple, that pesky, pesky fruit that keeps getting chicks in trouble.


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